Common Tern

Sterna hirundo

Adult in breeding plumage
Long wings row through the air
Searching for fish over North Cove
Expert in plunge-fishing
Male uses fish in courting female
Aerial courtship dance
Pair chooses nest site together
Parent very defensive of nest site
Clutch usually 1 to 3 eggs; 6 eggs here from two nests
Newly hatched chick
Parent feeds fish to chick
Voracious chicks also fed squid, crustaceans, large flying insects
Adult-sized fledgling still being fed
Fledgling strengthened for migration to southern South America
Juveniles may be fed during migration
Parents may feed young on wintering ground
19th century Hat with bird wing

Common Terns can be seen at Salter Grove from May through August.  Every year, a noisy flock lands on the same rocky islet south of Rock Island.  These terns can be easily seen from the Marsh Trail.  The causeway is also a great vantage point to observe them diving for small fish in North and South Coves.  Even when not visible, their piercing calls can be heard from the woods along the eastern arm of the Upland Trail.

The arrival of over thirty Common Terns in 2019 displaced a family of American Oystercatchers. The parents remained in the area but the three newly hatched chicks were not observed again.  In subsequent years, fewer than a dozen terns have returned suggesting that the islet was not a favorable breeding site for terns.  At low tide, the islet is accessible to small mammals such as rats and the American Mink which are known to be predators of eggs and nestlings. 

Common Terns breed from the subarctic to the temperate regions in Asia, Europe, and North America, including areas in north Africa.   It is a long-distance migrant and travels great distances to winter in coastal sub-tropical and tropical regions.

During the nineteenth century, Common Terns in both Europe and North America were decimated by both the collection of eggs, and from an overwhelming fashion craze.  Feathers from millions of egrets, grebes, herons, and even entire stuffed terns were used to decorate women's hats.  These species made easy targets because they nested in large colonies.   

Fortunately, not all women succumbed to this fad and many conservation minded individuals rallied support for legislation to stop this practice.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made it unlawful to collect any migratory bird for any purpose.